1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
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Crackdowns on violent cartels in Mexico and Colombia have pushed the powerful narcotrafficking gangsters into Central America. This impoverished region is composed of weak governments that are ill-equipped to control violent crime and corruption that accompany the illicit drug trade. Violent crime rates in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador already are among the highest in the world, with Guatemala's homicide rate ten times that of the United States. As narco-gangs are able to operate with virtual impunity, they will sow insecurity and undermine the rule of law, making it difficult to govern let alone improve the lives of millions of Central Americans. What is the United States' responsibility as a neighbor and the chief consumer of illegal drugs in the region?
On September 16, a panel of experts on the region will meet at AEI to address these issues, moderated by Roger Noriega, AEI visiting fellow. Join us as we discuss the threat posed by narcotrafficking organizations in Central America and ideas for international collaboration to provide the necessary material, political, and law enforcement support for the region.
Registration and Luncheon
ERIC FARNSWORTH, Vice President, Council of the Americas
ERIC L. OLSON, Senior Associate, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
RAY WALSER, Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation
WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 16, 2011—As the bridge that connects the primary producer of drugs in the Americas to the primary consumer, Central America has faced increasing security issues because of drug trafficking activity. A panel of experts met Friday at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss the history and possible future of the war on drugs in Central America. Ray Walser of the Heritage Foundation traced the development of Central American security issues from the “decade of polarized conflict” in the 1980s and the strengthening of institutions in the early 1990s to the rise of gang activity in the late 1990s that provoked the current “mano duro” policy implemented by governments such as Mexico’s. Noting that $300 million has been pledged by the United States through the Mérida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative, Walser expressed hope that we will see a “continued capacity to fashion bipartisan policy” to offer assistance to the region. Eric L. Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars outlined the growing operations of Mexican crime organizations in Guatemala, which is wracked by extreme poverty and rampant crime. He also identified weaknesses of the “mano duro” policy. Finally, Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society emphasized the need for a creative discussion of possible US responses, such as allocating the “peace dividend” resulting from decreased spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the security issues in Latin America, controlling the illegal export of weapons from the United States to Latin America and stigmatizing the purchase of “blood drugs” that fuel the cartels.
Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society and has headed the Washington, DC, office since 2003. The organization is the leading voice on the Western Hemisphere, where the public and private sectors meet to discuss and promote an agenda based on democratic governance, open markets and the rule of law. He is a recognized expert on hemispheric affairs and US foreign and trade policy, having given congressional testimony numerous times. He is a frequent commentator in print, visual and new media; has authored or coauthored articles in American Interest, Americas Quarterly, Current History, Journal of Democracy and Latin American Policy; and is a columnist for PODER magazine and a blogger for the Huffington Post, National Journal and Americas Quarterly Online. His opinion pieces have appeared in Barron’s, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, Folha de Sao Paulo and numerous others.
Eric L. Olson is a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. In this position, he oversees the institute's work on US-Mexico security cooperation and research on organized crime and drug trafficking between the United States, Mexico and Central America. Prior to joining the Wilson Center, he was a senior specialist in the Department for Promotion of Good Governance at the Organization of American States from 2006 to 2007. Mr. Olson served as the interim director for government relations at Amnesty International USA and was Amnesty's advocacy director for the Americas from 2002 to 2006. Prior to his time at Amnesty, he was the senior associate for Mexico and economic policy at the Washington Office on Latin America for eight years. He worked at Augsburg College's Center for Global Education in Cuernavaca, Mexico, from 1989 to 1993, where he was the program director. From 1986 to 1988, he worked in Honduras, Central America, as a development specialist for several local nongovernmental organizations.
Ray Walser is a senior policy analyst specializing in Latin America at the Heritage Foundation. His interests and policy research emphases include defending the values of freedom and individual liberty; strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law; and advancing free trade and free-market economies in the Western Hemisphere. He focuses particularly on how to protect US security and meet the transnational threats posed by drugs, crime and terrorism in a global age and on the resurgence of anti-American and anti-democratic political forces in the Americas. Mr. Walser, who speaks Spanish, was a career Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State for 27 years before joining Heritage in 2007. His assignments took him to Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Nicaragua, and his last foreign posting was to the US Consulate General in Cape Town, South Africa, from 2003 to 2005. Mr. Walser has testified before committees of the U.S. House of Representatives on multiple occasions. He has appeared as a guest commentator and expert analyst on networks including CNN, FOX, PBS, C-SPAN, Sky News, Reuters and Voice of America.